Armenia Could Be Left in the Cold with Growing Turkish, Russian Ties

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During the two world wars, Turkey was allied with Germany.During World War I, Ottoman Turkey was Germany’s strategic ally. During World War II, it was Germany’s tacit ally, supplying metals to the Nazi war machine.

Germany was defeated in both wars, but its Turkish ally survived and maneuvered its way to become a major player in regional politics.

The Cold War proved to be a panacea for Turkey which joined NATO to execute all the dirty activities of the alliance in the Middle East, while tending to its own business by arming itself, reviving its economy and settling historic scores with neighbors.

Today, Turkey has its occupation army in Cyprus, courtesy of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, as well as military bases in Qatar and Djibouti, plus its unwelcome military presence in Iraq and Syria. It plays an active role in the Libyan conflict, supporting Islamist extremists and agitating that country’s neighbors, Egypt and Algeria, which have paid a high price in containing those extremists within their own borders.

As a NATO member, Turkey is deeply involved in the Balkans, where the West destroyed the former Yugoslavia in response to the genocidal actions of Serbia, to create a constellation of client states in the heart of Europe.

Turkey has been mustering all this power to rise to the level of impunity. Last week many European countries commemorated the anniversary of the Holocaust, which was covered by the news networks. It was interesting to note that along the Jewish Holocaust, almost all other mass atrocities were mentioned, except the Armenian Genocide, certainly in deference to Turkey, which wields tremendous political power internationally.

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Turkey’s westward expansion should concern Armenia and Armenians, but it should not worry them as much as Turkey’s eastward thrust.

The Cold War had an ideological veneer and it pitted blocks of nations against each other. Post-Cold War, politics has evolved in another direction; nations do not have ideological axes to grind any more with each other — they oppose each other and they undermine each other’s positions as the case may require, but they cooperate with each other on common interests. Throughout modern history, Turkey has been an arch enemy of Russia and Iran. Yet, today, they cooperate on the Syrian battleground, never refraining from skirmishes in the process, wherever their interests conflict. This is micromanaged by diplomacy, which Armenia has yet to learn and apply.

Armenia is locked in a conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh). But that war is managed by Ankara. It was historic luck that Armenia won the war but we have not yet celebrated that victory because the conflict has become part and parcel of the political web in the Caucasus. We cannot discount a direct involvement by Turkey, should the conflict heat up again, particularly in light of the recent Moscow-Ankara honeymoon over mutual interests.

A recent development made Armenia painfully aware how closely the enemy has surrounded it. Alarm bells have been ringing since Turkey began to build its military base in Nakhijevan (Nakhichevan), in violation of the Treaties of Moscow and Kars of 1921. Those two interlocking treaties not only define the border between Armenia and Turkey but they also have many more implications for the signatories.

Although at the time Mustafa Kemal’s Grand National Assembly was not yet recognized internationally as a government, the Turks managed to introduce clauses which will qualify as a political and legal padlock for the Armenian side. Through Turkey’s insistence, Article 5 of the Kars Treaty forbids Azerbaijan from ceding the territory of Nakhijevan to a third party, meaning Armenia, without the consent of the other signatories, Russia, Georgia and Turkey.

The treaty also recognized Ajaria as the Ajarian Autonomous Republic under Georgian tutelage, in consideration of Ajaria’s Muslim population. Similarly, Nakhijevan became an exclave called the Autonomous Republic of Nakhijevan, because of its majority Armenian population. When Azerbaijan became independent in 1991, it declared itself the successor state of the Republic of Azerbaijan (1918-1920), which existed before the Treaty of Kars. Thus, it unilaterally absorbed the territory of Nakhijevan, in violation of the Kars Treaty.

Now, Turkey has come to violate the same treaty by virtually taking over Nakhijevan and establishing a military base there. One does not have to wonder against whom that base operates — Armenia and Iran.

Incidentally, only Armenia is beholden to the tenets of the treaty which defines its border with Turkey. The unsigned Zurich Protocols of 2009 were intended to replace or consolidate the terms of the Kars Treaty as far as the border issue between Armenia and Turkey was concerned.

Of course, it would sound politically correct to Turkey’s NATO allies if Ankara alleges that its military base in Nakhijevan serves as a counterbalance to the Russian base in Gyumri, Armenia.

Turkologist Ruben Safrastyan, the director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the National Academy of Sciences in Armenia, has stated, “In my opinion, the Turkish military-political activity observed in recent years in Nakhijevan pursued far-reaching geopolitical goals. … The base in Nakhijevan is called upon over time to perfectly complement the already-established military-political axis of Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan.”

Safrastyan issued a further warning about the fallout from those developments in Armenia as he concluded his analysis: “Together with the above circumstances, all these create prerequisites for the emergence of a fundamentally new situation, and, accordingly, for the emergence of new challenges and threats to Armenia’s security. Both Armenia and Artsakh should be ready for this and raise the combat readiness of the armed forces.”

While the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs representing the US, Russia and France, as well as Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov invite the governments of the parties in the conflict to prepare their citizens for peace, we see on the other hand the emergence of an alarming situation. Either false hopes are being raised by the people in charge of overseeing the settlement or peace will be enforced at a very stiff price.

Can Armenia rely on its own armed forces to face the challenge or does it have to rely on the Russian military base to thwart this existential threat?

However, currently there is growing anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia. In fact, there is a very obvious and orchestrated vilification of Russia saturating the airwaves. Unfortunately, that campaign is fueled by recent crimes committed by Russian soldiers. In December, a woman was killed by a Russian soldier in Gyumri. A few years back, an entire family, including a baby, was slaughtered by another Russian soldier there. These painful incidents are being politicized and are used to call for the abrogation of the Russian-Armenian treaty regarding the military base.

Similar high-profile incidents take place near and around US military bases in Germany, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, etc. Yet no party questions the existence of those military bases nor their significance for the security of the country.

This media campaign, coupled with some actions by the new government, have created distrust among the Kremlin’s strategic planners against Armenia.

A commentator, Yuri Simonyan, writing in the Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta, states that “The Kremlin seeks proof of allegiance from the new authorities to keep developing the strategic alliance high on its agenda.”

Citing “well informed” sources, Simonyan writes that Russia’s trust in Armenia’s new government is still on “shaky ground” in light of recent inspections at Russian-owned companies operating in Armenia. Certainly it did not sit well with the Kremlin when Armenia sought trade and military ties with China and Sweden, nor Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s statement to John Bolton that Armenia “is open” to consider its options for buying military hardware from the US.

Pashinyan was in Moscow last week, when Armenia assumed the rotational presidency of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). He stated in his inaugural speech that he personally had voted in the past against the existence of the Russian base in Armenia but now it was his belief that the base was crucial for the country’s defense. That assurance was not sufficient to open the Kremlin doors to Pashinyan. President Vladimir Putin’s office announced that he was too busy to receive Armenia’s prime minister, though Pashinyan met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

It looks like there is a lack of understanding about the geopolitical situation in the region. Not only by the media pundits, but even some young parliamentarians who claim that the Russian base compromises Armenia’s sovereignty.

Political naivete is not new in Armenia. In 1921, the February uprising was started against Soviet rule, and the last prime minister of independent Armenia Simon Vratzian appealed to the Turkish government to help restore his party in power. And this appeal was made when the Turkish government had just completed the Genocide.

There is a long analytical article in Statfor, dated January 22, whose title is “What the Chill in Russian-Armenian Relations Means.” The significant statements in that analysis are the following:

  • “If the Russian-Armenian relationship continues to fray, other powers, including the United States, Iran and Turkey, could make inroads in the Caucasus country and weaken Russia’s position.”
  • “This in turn could force Russia to focus more on bolstering ties with one of Armenia’s biggest nemeses, Azerbaijan, raising the prospect of greater instability in the region.”

Pashinyan, the leader of the Velvet Revolution, had stated time and again that the sole purpose of the movement was to overthrow the corrupt regime and that it had no foreign policy agenda. It seems now that the movement indeed has a tilt, one which may  jeopardize its strategic partnership with Russia.

Political analysts were surprised that Russia moved its military base out of Georgia upon the request of the government, even before the expiration of the treaty. The same action was taken in Azerbaijan, from where the Russian listening post had withdrawn. Local politicians believed that these military assets were essential for Russian forces to project their posture in the Middle East. But later on, they discovered that Russia had developed its arsenal to hit targets in Syria, even from the Caspian Sea.

Therefore, it will be foolhardy for the pundits in Armenia to believe that the Russian base serves only Russian interests rather than Armenian one.

It is clear that storm clouds are gathering in the skies over the Caucasus. Russian-Turkish relations have almost returned to the days of Lenin and Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk).

Armenia can only operate according to the existing facts on the ground. Issues of sovereignty are manufactured arguments, as it is beyond Armenia’s means to challenge the Russian colossus — and survive.

 

 

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